America, July 10, 2005
Woohoo! I made it in 2:30 - the top 20%!!
Looking down, I could see the current ripping past the start barge. The guys already in the water were holding onto the safety rope else they would be swept away. Seeing this current, I was not afraid, no I was elated. When you're facing a 1,500 meter swim (300ft short of a mile) at the start of an Olympic-distance triathlon, every bit of help is welcome, and the low tide current of the Hudson River this morning was a wonderful sight.
A sight I welcomed as I got ready to start the 2005 New York City Olympic Distance Triathlon. Olympic distance as in I was about to start a race that requires me to swim 1,500 meters (almost mile) in the Hudson River, bicycle 40 kilometers (almost 25 miles) on the Henry Hudson Parkway to the Bronx and back, and run 10 kilometers (just over 6 miles) through Central Park.
All that was ahead of me as I sat on the start barge and listened to the announcer count down to our start. The N-Z wave of 30-34's, we were amped up and ready to go. Shouting down our nervousness as we dropped 60, then 45, then 30 seconds till race start. Whaaaak! We are off!
Into the water I go, initially scared because I'm one of the few without a wetsuit, but once in the brown soup, happy I didn't. 70 degree water is just right for my swim, cold enough to keep me from overheating, but warm enough that I will not go numb in hands and feet. Not dawdling as I think of this, I start my swim with my best dying chicken stroke.
Forgetting all that I've learned in the last six months of swim lessons and training, I flailed around for the first few hundred meters until I started to concentrate on my stroke. Or tried to concentrate as the boat wakes, wind chop, other swimmers, fast current, safety kayakers, and race nervousness played havoc with my mind and my breath.
At one point, with the smell of gasoline swirled in the water, I escaped the race and thought about the poor sea creatures who have to live with man's dirty disregard for the ocean. If I, a land living, dying chicken swimming human hated smell the stink of boat motor effluent, how did creatures who knew only the water, who absorbed its taste through skin, scale, gill feel when chemicals fouled the rivers and seas?
Coming back from my sadness for the pollution of man, I noticed that the swim end was near. Just ahead, just so close, just a little more and I could leave the grip of this dense liquid and get into the wondrous, highly viscous, fully breathable, gaseous atmosphere we call air. Starting to think of my swim to bike transition, T1, I reassured myself that the good parts were just ahead, the bike and the swim.
Out of the water in 20:27, and onto land, it was a long run to T1, a run where I caught my breath, cleared my mind, and focused on what mattered now, getting into my bike gear and out onto the road. I quickly tossed my goggles, turned on my GPS, pulled on my shirt, helmet, socks, and shoes, stuffing energy gel into my shorts along with bike gloves and the GPS, and out onto the bike course I went at 24:54.
Ah the bike. Unlike the Charlottesville Sprint Triathlon three weeks ago this bike course was relatively flat, fast, and fun. I spent most of my 1:18 leapfrogging another cyclist who rode at a similar pace. Al was faster than I on the uphills, with strong thighs to push him along, but once we came to a downhill, his lack of aerobars and my need for speed had me whipping by him at breakneck speeds.
While we flew along at our pace, the real bicycle masters would zoom by like we were standing still. Unfortunately, there were a few bicycle masters that we zoomed by who really were standing still. Walking their bikes or bent over them, each had flat tires that knocked them out of the race for a while or for good.
Al and I had luck enough to avoid that fate, though once in sight of the finish, Al left me to sprint into the transition. About then one of my DC Triathlon Club teammates zipped by me too. Chad, competing in his first tri ever, rode to his strength, putting in an impressive time on the bike. After ditching our bike gear and slipping into running shoes, he and I left T2 together, heading across town into Central Park.
Chad cramped up fast, leaving me to dash across the city blocks leading to the Park in the company of other runners, many of whom were showing the signs of exhaustion already. At this point, I too was close to my limits, purposing keeping a slower-than-usual speed on the run to pace myself. Often, in the rush of a race, I've hit the run with a mighty push, knowing that this section is my strength and in the process of proving that, wearing myself out too soon.
Today was perfect. With cool weather and cheering crowds to keep me focused, once in Central Park, I found a runner who had the perfect pace for me. Not so fast, not so slow, we paced each other for the next 10 kilometers, encouraging when the pain crept in, congratulating when we crested a hill, and slowing when one went for a drink. I never got his name, but he was a lifesaver. I'm sure for him too, I was a lifesaver. Too often we would tell the other that he couldn't stop, no matter the pain, for his footfalls were the only thing keeping the other runner going.
And on we went. Up Central Park to its northern, hilly, end, and then back down to the center we ran, sweating and swearing the whole way. Only when I could see the finish line, know it would soon end, and make the trade of speed for pain, did I pull out all the stops. My last 50 meters, that was all a screaming sprint! And so it ended, the 2005 New York City Triathlon, 2:30:51 after I jumped off the starting barge into the swift Hudson River. Wanna see a video of my finish? Then click here!
Now wait, did I forget to mention that I did not do this race solo? No, I did this race with my best motivator ever, my cousin George, who agreed way back at New Years, that we would do this triathlon together. He had the backing of his wife Cathy, who put up with his snores and stink while training. Me, I had Karen, my good friend, who graciously put up with my training time and put all three of us up in her NYC apartment. Thanks ladies, and thanks George, I, we, couldn't do it without you.